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ruminations on a series of unrelated events

Arcanum Research Rides Again

Arcanum Research, an organization that investigates inexplicable phenomena, will be showcasing their field research awards from the last seven years at the Indianapolis International Airport this November.  Arcanum Research has accumulated a significant number of awards in the International Field Research Competitions held each June in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. AR  has been invited to display their coveted trophies for 3 months starting November 16th. In addition, AR has been asked to create a display for the video wall in the airport. Besides the numerous trophies celebrating the incredible dedication and research skills of AR personnel, several field research images will be pulled  from the massive photo archive maintained by AR documentarian C. Thomas Lewis. 




In 2007 I started photographing tableaux vivants in which researchers earnestly investigate inexplicable phenomena. Photographs are central to the Arcanum Research enterprise. Most aspects of Arcanum Research are derived from and motivated by the images released from its (hypothetical) photography archive. Many of these images frequently show an earnest attempt by the photographs’ subjects to investigate the inexplicable phenomenon confronting them; oblivious to the notion that once the inexplicable is understood and the mystery explained, something intangible might be forever lost. Consequently, the effects of Arcanum Research, and possibly research in general, can be called into question.

Like the phenomena that have captured the curiosity of the photographs’ subjects, the images themselves elicit the viewer’s desire to comprehend the staged tableau vivants. The tableaus elicit a curiosity akin to the viewer coming in late to a film or play in which psychological dynamics and other relationships have already been established. As the viewer scans the images in search of clues, they may perceive an element of this dynamic which might threaten to interfere with the researchers’ quest. This element is typically one point in a triangulated dynamic involving the researcher(s), and the object of their research. This third element might just prevent, (or save), the mystery from being explained (away).

Working with multiple participants, an Arcanum photograph is the result of a spontaneous improvisation typically inspired by a feature in the landscape and acted out in the magic hour just before sunset. As the moments before darkness quickly slip away, the pressure increases to “find” the photograph and various ideas are quickly enacted. While the resulting image is seemingly a straight documentary photograph, it is actually a digital composite typically constructed from several images made at that time. The staging at twilight also allows for the introduction of artificial light, which is frequently incorporated into the narrative of the images as part of the research. The careful balance of natural and artificial light increases the theatricality and heightens the strangeness of the moment.


Last year I was asked by Indianapolis art curator Julia Muney Moore if I would be interested in displaying my Arcanum Research work at the Indianapolis International Airport. Of course I jumped at the chance. For the show I designed 6 trophies and worked with 3D artist, Sarah Zajac, to create them. After months in the making they are currently in various stages of printing at Shapeways. Two arrived in the mail today and three more will arrive next week. The figurines which I will paint Gold, Silver or Bronze, will be mounted on trophy bases with engraved plates listing various preposterous competitions. Yesterday the two glass shelves to display the trophies arrived from Ikea. With one more trip to the trophy store to get the rest of the bases I ordered and to finalize the engravings, I will hopefully have all the trophy hardware and can soon start painting and assembling them.

In addition to the trophies and photos, there is a large video wall I am creating a 60-second video for. Originally I had proposed 6 10-second commercials for Arcanum because the video wall basically runs commercials with an occasional appearance of a piece of video art. I wanted the commercials interspersed with the other real commercials. Each commercial would feature a trophy and brag about AR’s victory and research acumen. The airport authorities (who have to approve everything) and Clear Channel  (owners of the video wall) liked that idea. But later I was told that even though all the other ads are 10 seconds for some reason Clear Channel was saying I had to have one 60-second block. So I am basically rolling all the ads into one. The design of that “ad”, which goes up in January for 6 months, has been something of a challenge. I recently got the concept down and have done some preliminary animations. It is looking good. A grad student of mine, Jiachi Liu, recently expressed interest in helping. So we just did a test shoot of a prototype trophy figurine and he has been creating the dazzling sparkly look that will be used to enhance the trophies. The video also features tons of equations and formulas and in one quadrant of the video there will be a 3D swirl of these formulas. So there is a lot of digital work in my near future.

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This entry was posted on October 5, 2014 by in Arcanum Research, Art.
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